George McGovern

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From secrecy and deception in high places... From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation, come home, America...
I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.
George McGovern as Food for Peace director in 1961, with President John F. Kennedy
From secrecy and deception in high places, come home, America. From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation... come home, America... Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.

George Stanley McGovern (July 19, 1922 – October 21, 2012) was an American historian, author, U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and the Democratic Party presidential nominee in the 1972 presidential election. As a senator, McGovern was an exemplar of modern American liberalism. He became most known for his outspoken opposition to the growing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Throughout his career, McGovern was involved in issues related to agriculture, food, nutrition, and hunger. As the first director of the Food for Peace McGovern oversaw the distribution of U.S. surpluses to the needy abroad and was instrumental in the creation of the United Nations-run World Food Programme. As sole chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs from 1968 to 1977, McGovern publicized the problem of hunger within the United States... which led to a new set of nutritional guidelines for Americans. McGovern was appointed the first UN global ambassador on world hunger by the World Food Programme in 2001. The McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program has provided school meals for millions of children in dozens of countries since 2000 and resulted in McGovern's being named World Food Prize co‑laureate in 2008.


  • From secrecy and deception in high places, come home, America.
  • From military spending so wasteful that it weakens our nation, come home, America.
  • From the entrenchment of special privileges in tax favoritism; from the waste of idle lands to the joy of useful labor; from the prejudice based on race and sex; from the loneliness of the aging poor and the despair of the neglected sick: come home, America.
  • Come home to the affirmation that we have a dream. Come home to the conviction that we can move our country forward.
  • We are the party that believes we can’t let the strong kick aside the weak... Our party believes that poor children should be as well educated as those from wealthy families. We believe that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes and that everyone should have access to health care... With the country burdened economically... there has never been a more critical time in our nation’s history” to rely on those principles.
  • I don’t think the American people had a clear picture of either Nixon or me...I think they thought that Nixon was a strong, decisive, tough-minded guy, and that I was an idealist and antiwar guy who might not attach enough significance to the security of the country. The truth is, I was the guy with the war record, and my opposition to Vietnam was because I was interested in the nation’s well-being.
  • I think the Vietnamese are better off in Vietnam.
    • In Newsweek May 5, 1975. Quoted by Quang X. Pham in Ford's Finest Legacy in the Washington Post (30 December 2006)
  • Chairman (Larry) O'Brien, Chairwoman (Yvonne) Burke, Senator (Ted) Kennedy, Senator (Thomas) Eagleton and my fellow citizens, I'm happy to join us (sic) for this benediction of our Friday sunrise service. I assume that everyone here is impressed with my control of this Convention in that my choice for Vice President was challenged by only 39 other nominees. And I can tell you that Eleanor (McGovern) is very grateful that the Oregon delegation at least kept her in the race with (wife of Attorney General John N Mitchell) Martha Mitchell. -McGovern's acceptance speech at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, America's Political Parties: Power and Privelige Part 1: The Democrats hosted by Ben Wattenberg
  • I opened the doors of the Democratic Party and 20 million people walked out. -ibid
  • I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.

“A Politician's Dream Is a Businessman's Nightmare”[edit]

Letter from George McGovern to Wall Street Journal (June 1, 1992) page A12

  • In 1988, I invested most of the earnings from this lecture circuit acquiring the leasehold on Connecticut's Stratford Inn… In retrospect, I wish I had known more about the hazards and difficulties of such a business, especially during a recession of the kind that hit New England just as I was acquiring the inn's 43-year leasehold. I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.
  • Today we are much closer to a general acknowledgment that government must encourage business to expand and grow. Bill Clinton, Paul Tsongas, Bob Kerrey and others have, I believe, changed the debate of our party. We intuitively know that to create job opportunities we need entrepreneurs who will risk their capital against an expected payoff. Too often, however, public policy does not consider whether we are choking off those opportunities.
  • But my business associates and I also lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: `Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape.' It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators.
  • For example, the papers today are filled with stories about businesses dropping health coverage for employees. We provided a substantial package for our staff at the Stratford Inn. However, were we operating today, those costs would exceed $150,000 a year for health care on top of salaries and other benefits. There would have been no reasonably way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.
  • In short, ‘one-size-fits-all’ rules for business ignore the reality of the market place. And setting thresholds for regulatory guidelines at artificial levels--e.g., 50 employees or more, $500,000 in sales--takes no account of other realities, such as profit margins, labor intensive vs. capital intensive businesses, and local market economics.
  • The problem we face as legislators is: Where do we set the bar so that it is not too high to clear? I don't have the answer. I do know that we need to start raising these questions more often.

Quotes about[edit]

  • I never did care that much for George McGovern. I thought that George McGovern was just an opportunist, at that time.
  • Defense conversion is most closely associated with South Dakota Democrat and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern, who made it his signature issue in Congress. A recession in the mid-1950s and the military cuts following the Cuban missile crisis gave him the opportunity to push the idea through the Senate, and in 1964 he called for a National Economic Conversion Commission (NECC) that would oversee the work. McGovern wanted to get the defense industry out of job creation, recognizing, as many liberal and conservative elites did privately, that the military-industrial complex was essentially a “gigantic WPA.” McGovern also wanted to free up hundreds of millions of federal monies for domestic welfare, to shore up the welfare state. But the Vietnam War killed the project, as his fellow Democrats denounced him as a “radical” in the middle of a war.
  • Bill Clinton, who started his political career with McGovern, expressed interest in cutting defense to invest in transportation infrastructure, including “a high-speed rail network.” Yet again, however, liberals and conservatives proved no different in government, voting to keep the military-industrial complex going, even though the United States had become the world’s first truly uncontested superpower.
  • I had a strange, brief flirtation with the right. I voted for Richard Nixon...Nixon was even running against a South Dakota boy, George McGovern. But McGovern had no understanding of treaty rights...
  • Four years later, another antiwar Democrat managed to win the nomination. Senator George McGovern had flown thirty-five bombing missions against the Nazis in a B-24. He couldn’t be dismissed as a weakling afraid to draw blood. At the 1972 Democratic convention that summer, McGovern promised to withdraw the United States from Vietnam immediately: “[W]ithin ninety days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle and out of their cells and then home in America where they belong.” The message failed. The McGovern campaign lost all but a single state in the general election to Richard Nixon. McGovern didn’t reassess. If anything he hardened his position. Before leaving the race, McGovern made the case for what might now be described as an America First foreign policy: “This is also the time to turn away from excessive preoccupation overseas to the rebuilding of our own nation.” It would be forty-four years before another presidential candidate made that point as forcefully, and he was a Republican.
    • Tucker Carlson, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution (2018)
  • A slender, soft-spoken minister’s son newly elected to Congress — his father was a Republican — Mr. McGovern went to Washington as a 34-year-old former college history teacher and decorated bomber pilot in World War II... with ... a brand of politics traceable to the Midwestern progressivism of the late 19th century.
  • Elected to the Senate in 1962, Mr. McGovern voted consistently in favor of civil rights and antipoverty bills, was instrumental in developing and expanding food stamp and nutrition programs, and helped lead opposition to the Vietnam War in the Senate.
  • To the liberal Democratic faithful, Mr. McGovern remained a standard-bearer well into his old age, writing and lecturing... insisting on a strong, “progressive” federal government to protect the vulnerable and expand economic opportunity, while asserting that history would prove him correct in his opposing not only what he called “the tragically mistaken American war in Vietnam” but also the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Unlike some of his peers, Mr. McGovern did not become wealthy in office, and he said he had no interest in lobbying afterward. Instead, he earned a living teaching, lecturing and writing. He briefly owned a motor inn in Stratford, Conn., and a bookstore in Montana, where he owned a summer home. But neither investment proved profitable.
  • ...“soft” on defense. For forty years now, Democrats have sought to avoid the label that was attached to George McGovern, the World War II hero who recognized the folly of squandering America’s human, moral and fiscal prospects on war-making in Vietnam. It is true that McGovern lost his 1972 presidential race. But he did not lose because he was wrong. He lost because of the wrong politics of a moment when his own party was divided and his opposition was ruthless.
  • The wisdom and hope that was inherent in McGovern’s call that year was not sufficient to defeat Richard Nixon. In a matter of months, however, polls would reveal that Americans regretted their decision, as they came to recognize the extent of Nixon’s corruption. Forty years on, McGovern’s vision that America might come home to the ideals that had nourished it from the beginning is less a matter of hope than necessity.
  • The vision McGovern, who died Sunday at age 90, articulated as his party’s nominee for the presidency, and as one of its ablest and most honorable senators, is as correct as ever... the need to make deep cuts in Pentagon spending and the attendant policing of the world... George McGovern’s vision makes even more sense now than it did in 1972. When McGovern ran for president in 1972, his slogan was “Come Home, America.”
  • The South Dakota senator’s message was a necessary and appropriate one for that moment, when the United States was mired in what seemed to be a war without end in Southeast Asia—a war that emptied the US treasury into the coffers of a military-industrial complex that demanded resources that could have been spent on job creation, education and healthcare.

External links[edit]

Nixon Library's Oral History with George McGovern (1 h 14 min) .

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